Photographs and email exchanges about a dead sperm whale which show the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact on wildlife have been revealed by Greenpeace activists. A selection of the photographs and exerts from emails, which were obtained by the organisation through a Freedom of Information request, were published yesterday in the UK on the Guardian’s website.
The pictures show the decayed carcass of a juvenile sperm whale which was seen at sea, 77 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The sighting, which occurred on 15 June 2010 by crew aboard a research vessel controlled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the infamous BP oil spill in April 2010. However the reports and images, which demonstrate how whales came into close contact with the spill area, were blocked by US government officials until now. NOAA observers on another vessel at the same site also made notes about another five whales that were seen on the same day. “Observers noticed that the young whale was covered in oil sheen,” the detection report notes. “It is very possible that these adults were covered in the same oil as the juvenile whale was covered in as the water quality was very poor with iridescent sheens all over the surface.” Crew were however instructed not to share this information with the public.
The cover-up is thought to be particularly significant since BP is currently facing claims from the US federal government for environmental damages. It is already preparing to pay almost £5bn in economic damages arising from the oil spill and it is believed that accounting for wildlife killed as a direct result of the disaster will play a major role for the company in addressing accusations about environmental damages. Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace said, “In the settlement with BP, an endangered species or any animal killed by the spill matters”.
Scientists have admitted however that it is very difficult to establish the cause of death of the sighted sperm whale, owing to the level of decay of the carcass. Though they do know that the Gulf of Mexico was home to one of the biggest populations of sperm whale in the world it has proved challenging to ascertain the exact number affected by the oil spill. “We do know that oil spills do kill whales but we know very little about how lethal they are and what makes them lethal,” said Hal Whitehead, a research biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “The whales that are there or used to be there move around a fair amount so if they weren’t actively avoiding the spill there is a good chance that quite a large proportion of them might have gone into it.” Whether the latest sighting of the sperm whale will have an impact on the damages BP will pay remains to be seen.
Sources include: The Guardian, Truthdig
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